Scorcese’s The Irishman is a bloated & boring funeral dirge for premiere American Cinema.
Scorcese’s latest film tries to recapture the riveting crime drama of Goodfellas but instead is a long self indulgent exercise in the mundane. Maybe Netflix’s laissez faire model isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Scorcese has always been an extremely overrated director. His entire career has been style over substance with a very generous occasional boost from Robert De Niro’s acting. Only two films from his corpus are truly great: Taxi Driver and Goodfellas. Taxi Driver’s script is so perfect it would have been a good film regardless of who made it. The rest of Scorcese’s canon is a joyless exercise in existential pretension, rarely worth paying attention to except for the fact that Scorcese’s name is attached. Occasionally he even manages to make truly horrible films like The Last Temptation of Christ.
Yet somehow Americans have continually used Scorcese as a significant cultural marker. As if having a great filmmaker made us interesting as a nation, almost like a film laureate. Every year he didn’t win an Academy Award was considered a travesty. And when he finally did win for The Departed, which was a remake of a Chinese crime film, it was extremely anti climatic. The offerings that year were so poor that not giving it to Scorcese would’ve seemed downright conspiratorial.
And now Netflix has released his latest film, The Irishman, to almost universal critical acclaim. But it’s easily one of the worst films of Scorcese’s mediocre career. This is essentially the fourth time he’s tried to remake Goodfellas and recapture that lightning in a bottle. At least The first two attempts, Casino and the Wolf of Wallstreet, were enjoyable films full of devious energy and prurient dark humor. But the Irishman is just boring through and through. This feels like Goodfellas made by a tired old man. The performances are dull and lifeless. De Niro seems bored, Pesci seems sleepy, and Pacino’s shtick is so cliche at this point, it feels like a parody of a parody. This is what the French call une tres bad film.
Most people don’t realize that Goodfellas is a lot longer than the two hours most films take to tell their stories, because it breezes along at breakneck speed. Every scene feels fresh, clever, and compelling. But The Irishman is three and a half hours long and the first ten minutes alone feel like an eternity. There’s no plot, no story, just stuff happening. De Niro is constantly narrating the non events of a long life of crime from the perspective of an old man, and it really feels like an old man’s story in the worst possible way. When my grandparents told us stories I was always riveted. But De Niro is channeling Abe Simpson’s verbal meandering nonsense. There are absolutely no stakes in this film, no tension whatsoever. Someone gets shot and the narrator moves on. Someone gets beat, something gets stolen, Etc.
Scorcese recently got in a public spat over whether or not the MCU movies were even films. That’s a very interesting debate in and of itself but Scorcese’s perspective wasn’t exactly profound. Franchises by definition aren’t traditional films. And thank God they aren’t like the films Scorcese makes. A franchise may go on for decades but at least each individual film has a beginning, middle and end. If the Irishman is his answer to the MCU then the question wasn’t worth asking.
But where are the really great films as films coming from these days? They certainly aren’t coming from false giants like Scorcese. And they aren’t necessarily even coming from America. Good cinema is happening all over the globe. But if the critical acclaim that was lavished on The Irishman is any sign of what culture makers think viewers want then we’re in trouble.
One would think that auteurs like Scorcese might take a cue from the energy and humor of the Marvel and DC superhero films instead of trying to dump on them. Audiences enjoy those films not because they can’t handle meatier things. Those films make tons of money because they’re fun and also full of pathos. We enjoy them for the same reason we still enjoy The Godfather, Casablanca, Bridge on the River Kwai, Seven Samurai, and even Goodfellas. They are good stories told well.
The Irishman on the other hand is a non story told poorly. It is the product of an unchecked ego and total disconnect from normal viewers. It might have been better served as a mini series, but alas it is what is is: a rotting reminder that American cinema simply isn’t as great as it used to be.